Stairmaster vs. Treadmill: Which Provides the Better Workout?

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Ilinka Trenova

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Do you want to boost the effectiveness of your cardio workouts? Are you trying to decide whether Stairmasters or treadmills are the right pieces of equipment for you?

Well, you’re in luck — we’ve got the answers. Both options offer many of the same features, but also have some notable differences. We’ll take a look at each one in our Stairmaster vs treadmill comparison.

a woman trying differences between stairmaster vs treadmill

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Similarities

For the most part, your choice of cardio equipment depends on your personal preferences and current fitness level. The ways a Stairmaster and treadmill are used basically yield the same results but in different ways.

Cardiovascular Fitness

First in line is your cardiovascular health, which either machine can improve. Stairmasters use a stepper motion to mimic the act of climbing stairs, while treadmills offer a more natural running or walking gait. In both cases, your heart rate is elevated, leading to improved endurance and overall cardiovascular endurance.

A woman exercising on a treadmill

You’re essentially engaging your core muscles in a way that your body is used to – just more intensely. We all climb stairs or walk and run on a regular basis, so if we add extra resistance and an increase in speed, we’re essentially simulating realistic movement.

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

Leg Workout

Given the primary focus on the lower body, both machines offer a great way to build up your muscles and carve out toned legs. Anyone who is looking to build lean muscle and shape their legs should consider either of these machines, depending on the exercise intensity they’d like to get out of their training plan.

Resistance Training

Both types of machines offer adjustable resistance settings, allowing you to increase or decrease the difficulty of your exercise plan as needed. Even though a treadmill is usually considered a low-impact machine, the resistance can be adjusted to give you a high-intensity workout that challenges your muscles with every step.

Experimenting with incline and speed settings on the treadmill allows you to develop a personalized routine that suits your needs and helps you reach your goals. Naturally, going with a steeper incline at a faster pace will be more of a challenge than a flat incline at a slower pace.

As for the stair machine, it offers the same customizable resistance settings – but with a twist. The stepper motion provides a more targeted lower-body workout, and the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) of aerobic and anaerobic exercises results in more calories burned.

Accessibility Features

How easy it is to use either exercise machine will often be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing between the two. Fortunately, both options are designed with the user’s needs in mind, with helpful features and flexible settings that make them easy to use.

A group of people running on treadmills

Treadmills are typically easier to get used to and require less coordination than the Stairmaster. They usually feature a basic console that allows you to set the speed and incline, as well as modify the program settings. Some devices may even come with ‘quick start’ buttons that allow you to instantly jump into your workout program without having to make any adjustments.

Stairmasters can be a bit more intimidating for beginners, but their consoles are usually just as straightforward and user-friendly. The most advanced models may even include built-in programs that adapt the machine’s settings to your level of fitness and goals.

Either way, both devices come with safety handrails that make it easier and safer to get on and off, as well as sensors that can detect a sudden stop or fall. If any of these situations occur, the machine will slow down or shut off automatically.

Low Impact Exercises

There’s no doubt that doing rough and vigorous exercises can have a tremendous impact on your muscles and ligaments. Sure, it can give you the results you want, but it might also leave your legs feeling sore and worn out.

Treadmills are designed to provide a running or walking experience that’s as close to true-to-life movement as possible . The cushioned deck absorbs most of the impact and shocks, reducing the risk of pain and soreness.

Two friends working out on treadmills

On the other hand, the Stairmaster offers a form of exercise that won’t put too much strain on the muscles. Since you’re stepping up and down instead of running, you can enjoy a workout with less impact but more resistance.

Stairmaster vs Treadmill: Differences

Despite the similarities between the two machines, there are some fundamental differences that may make one more suitable than the other based on your needs. Sometimes users may need to evaluate the way they intend to use the device, their goals and even their financial resources before selecting one.

Calories Burned

Anyone that’s keen on shedding some of their body weight will undoubtedly consider the calorie-burning capabilities of their athletic training regimen. After all, burning more calories than you consume is the most basic principle of weight loss.

When it comes to calorie-burning potential, a classic treadmill workout of about 60 minutes can burn up to 900 calories – with additional factors that can affect this number like speed, incline and current body weight.

On the other hand, a vigorous Stairmaster workout of the same duration can burn up to 400 calories. This gap can be attributed to the lower degree of muscle engagement and the higher movement intensity associated with a treadmill.

A woman exercising on a stairmaster

But even so, most people wouldn’t be able to handle an intense workout for a full hour anyway. Regular cardio exercise is normally done in smaller intervals of 20 – 30 minutes, which gives the user the flexibility to adjust their routine. In these compact periods, a Stairmaster can be just as effective as a treadmill in terms of calorie burning.

And let’s not forget that every individual has their own unique physiology and metabolism. Depending on the person’s state of health, cardiovascular capabilities, physical condition and age, they may find that one machine is more effective than the other. Not everyone responds to a certain type of exercise in the same way, and you may need to adjust your diet to maximize muscle growth.

Targeted Muscle Groups

While a lower-body emphasis is put on both types of exercise, there’s still a noticeable difference between the two when it comes to how much each machine contributes to building certain muscles.

Treadmills are great for developing the calf, hamstring and quadriceps muscles as they simulate a running motion. This is why they’re often the go-to choice for dedicated runners that are looking to build strong legs and boost their speed. You use these muscles to push off the machine’s belt or deck with each stride, and your knees drive the motion.

Stairmasters are optimized to work the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. As you move up the stairwell, you experience an intense isometric workout that strengthens your muscles as well as increases your resistance. The quads control the step up while the glutes and hamstrings control the descent of your feet.

Additionally, your ankles and calves are constantly flexing and contracting to keep your feet in balance and to assist with the up and down motions. This makes it an effective choice for people that want to build their lower-body strength without the high impact of running.

Joints Impact

Of course, there’s always a risk of injury when it comes to vigorous physical activity. Not only does the kind of exercise you choose play a role, but also how you perform it and the tools that you use.

The average treadmill workout can be stressful on the hips, knees, and ankles. The constant pounding of your soles on the belt or deck generates enough force to send shock waves through your body, which can cause excessive wear and tear on certain joints.

But even so, this is certainly better than running outside and on pavement, but it can still be problematic if you don’t maintain the right posture or if you overdo your workout. Sure, the weight is distributed more evenly between your two feet, but the impact is still there.

A Stairmaster workout on the other hand requires far less shock absorption and provides a more gentle exercise. The climbing motion has less of an effect on your joints, but it does put an emphasis on your knees and ankles, which is why proper form and posture are essential.

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

If you crank up the gradient and speed to a high level, then you may experience more stress on your joints than usual. But if you use the machine correctly and in moderation, you should be able to keep your risk of joint pain and injury at a minimum.


Setting up a home gym might sound like a great idea, but can quickly put a larger dent in your wallet than you initially anticipated. Splurging on exercise equipment is a tricky thing because you don’t want to spend too much money and still get quality, but also avoid buying something that will break down within a few months.

When it comes to the Stairmaster vs treadmill debate, the two devices come with different price tags, depending on the features and brand. Generally speaking, treadmills tend to have a lower asking price, but you do need to be careful with those cheaper models because they often lack quality.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a budget-friendly Stairmaster machine, though. Prices can range anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand, and it all comes down to the features you need and what your budget can accommodate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Stairmaster vs treadmill: Which is the best for weight loss?

Given the efficiency in calorie burning, the treadmill is generally seen as a better choice for weight loss. However, if you want to build muscle and tone the lower body, then a Stairmaster is worth considering due to its emphasis on strengthening the legs.

Is Stairmaster considered HIIT?

Yes, despite the low-impact nature of the exercise, a Stairmaster can be used for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of training involves alternating periods of intense effort with rest or light activity, and it can be an excellent way to burn calories in a short amount of time.

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Hey there, I'm Ilinka Trenova, a self-proclaimed CrossFit addict and content creator extraordinaire. I've been pumping iron and perfecting my snatches and squats for a solid decade now, and I still get a thrill every time I hit a new PR. What I love most about both CrossFit and writing is the sense of community they both provide. My CrossFit crew is full of people who push themselves to be their best, both inside and outside the gym. And let me tell you, I've never felt stronger or more confident than when I'm crushing a WOD. As a content creator, I've had the privilege of connecting with readers and other writers from all over the world and explore different topics and aspects of life together. Whether I'm writing a blog post, a product review, or crafting a witty social media caption, I always strive to create valuable and entertaining content. At the end of the day, I believe that both CrossFit and writing have helped me grow and become a better version of myself. And I'm truly excited to see where these passions will take me in the future!

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